Iceland’s growth within the European scene has caught many off-guard. But, can the Vikings spur them on to a good 2018 World Cup campaign?
Iceland are one of the few nations that will be making their first ever appearance at the World Cup in Russia. The Icelanders have risen only recently within the European footballing scene. They managed to make themselves known at the international level by defeating England en route to a Quarter-Final finish in their first ever appearance at the European Championships in 2016.
But, their rise is way beyond that. Many expected the nation to subside in terms of form and impact soon. But, that hasn’t happened, with Iceland breezing through the World Cup qualification phase, topping a group that had the likes of Croatia, Finland, Turkey and Ukraine alongside them.
Their home form was what got them through, with 5 out of 5 wins at home, thanks in large to the fans who light up the stadium with their cheers for Iceland.
Iceland’s journey in the world football scene has just started and the World Cup will be the next event where they would be looking to cause upsets.
Group and Fixtures
Iceland have been drawn in a tricky group, with the likes of Argentina, Croatia and Nigeria all in a stacked Group D. The European newcomers will kick off their campaign in Russia with a match against the favourites to top the group, Argentina. A result here could really place Iceland nicely to qualify to the knockouts.
Iceland then face Nigeria before meeting a familiar foe from the World Cup qualifying group stage – Croatia. The chances of qualifying will depend more on Iceland’s ability to notch up results against Nigeria and Croatia.
Heimir Hallgrimsson announced the 23-man squad to represent Iceland at the World Cup, on May 11, 2018.
Goalkeepers: Hannes Halldorsson, Frederik Schram, Runar Alex Runarsson
Defenders: Birkir Mar Saevarsson, Samuel Fridjonsson, Sverrir Ingi Ingason, Ragnar Sidgurdsson, Karl Arnason, Holmar Orn Eyjolfsson, Hordur Magnusson, Ari Skulason
Midfielders: Johann Berg Gudmundsson, Birkir Bjarnason, Gylfi Sigurdsson, Olafur Ingi Skulason, Aron Gunnarsson, Rurik Gislason, Emil Hallfredsson, Arnor Traustason
Forwards: Albert Gudmundsson, Bjorn Sigurdarson, Alfred Finnbogason, Jon Bodvarsson
There weren’t exactly surprises in terms of players excluded from the 23-man squad. Ogmundur Kristinsson was never expected to be the first choice keeper for Iceland at the World Cup. But, the Excelsior stopper would have been looking forward to being a part of the squad, at least over either of Frederik Schram and Runar Runarsson.
Elmar Bjarnason was another who had expected to the make the cut. But, the midfielders chosen do represent profiles equally able, if not more than the Elazigspor midfield general.
The most shocking exclusion was of Kolbeinn Sigporsson, who has been one of the main men for Iceland in attack over the last couple of years. That the player was the best performing active striker available for Iceland, along with being the second highest goalscorer in the nation’s history, further added disappointment to the news of his exclusion.
But, the attacking department seems to be in good hands – good, fresh and energetic hands of Albert Gudmundsson. The 20-year-old PSV winger has had a brilliant start to his senior career for Iceland, with 3 goals in 5 games and will be looking to have a breakout campaign at the World Cup in Russia.
Heimir Hallgrimsson has had an interesting journey within the international football sphere. Appointed as the assistant manager to Lars Lagerback in 2011 for the Iceland National Football Team, the IBV icon became joint-manager of the nation alongside Lagerback shortly after the cruel end to their bid to qualify for the 2014 FIFA World Cup.
Hallgrimsson was then handed the complete control of Iceland after Lagersback took up the opportunity of managing Norway. But, what the two had achieved together at Euro 2016 had set a platform for Iceland to build upon.
And Hallgrimsson made sure the nation did just that. Boasting almost a similar record to when he was the joint manager of the team, the IBV icon led the nation to a historic World Cup qualification campaign. Pitted against the likes of Croatia, Turkey, Finland and Ukraine in Group I, Hallgrimsson made sure Iceland topped the group to avoid a repeat of their 2014 edition heartbreak.
The task is complete. But, with qualification to the World Cup, a new challenge is upon Hallgrimsson and the cohesive Iceland side. What impressed people was that the team seemed not to focus on the star player(s) but work as a unit, which was the decisive factor in their success.
Unlike other managers in Group D, Hallgrimsson has hardly experimented with his lineup, opting to go with the trusted 4-4-2 formation. The classic tactical style has aided Iceland’s tenacious nature and is likely to be the go-to formation for the World Cup.
Halldorsson will likely be the goalkeeper for Iceland, with the veteran tasked with the responsibility of marshalling his defence. Ari Skulason and Birkir Saevarsson will guard the left and right flank respectively.
Kari Arnason’s experience will be vital to the defence and the 34-year-old is likely to be a regular in central defence for Iceland. Ragnar Sigurdsson should complete the back four, which will look to tap into their vast experience in order to achieve a good performance in Russia.
Aron Gunnarsson will likely play a withdrawn role in central midfield, with Gylfi Sigurdsson allowed to play the role of a roaming playmaker. The left flank should see Johann Berg Gudmundsson being deployed while the young hotshot Albert Gudmundsson should start on the right side of the midfield.
Alternatively, we could see Gylfi Sigurdsson being deployed upfront as a second striker of sorts, to partner Alfred Finnbogason in a two-pronged attack. In such a scenario, Sigurdsson’s place in midfield will likely be taken up by Birkir Bjarnason.
Probable Lineup (4-4-2): Halldorsson; Saevarsson, Arnason, Ragnar Sigurdsson, Ari Skulason; Albert Gudmundsson, Birkir Bjarnason, Gunnarsson, Johann Berg Gudmundsson; Gylfi Sigurdsson, Finnbogason
Iceland have all the right to be optimistic of their chances of being one of the two teams to go through from Group D in Russia. The opening game against Argentina will be the key metric. But, what will be of even further importance, will be their ability to defeat Croatia and Nigeria.
In al honesty, Iceland should go into the World Cup with positivity, knowing that even a group stage exit would be a learning curve for the nation who have just started flapping its wings in world football. One thing is for sure, the Vikings will be present in full force to support their heroes, no matter the result in Russia.